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D. Waberski, R. Claassen, T. Hahn, P. W. Jungblut, N. Parvizi, E. Kallweit and K. F. Weitze

The influence of a transcervical infusion of seminal plasma on preovulatory LH profiles and the advancement of ovulation after seminal plasma infusion for different times during oestrus were investigated using the single uterine horn infusion technique (Mariensee model), in combination with transcutaneous sonographic monitoring of the ovaries. Preparative surgery in 23 German Landrace gilts comprised the detachment of the left uterine horn from the corpus, leaving the caudal end open to the peritoneal cavity but sealing the corpus wound. In six gilts fitted with a permanent jugular vein catheter the patent horns were administered a transcervical infusion of seminal plasma (n = 5 cycles) or PBS (n = 4 cycles) immediately after the detection of oestrus by a teaser boar. In addition, 17 non-catheterized gilts received infusions of seminal plasma either 0 h (n = 3 gilts), 16 h (n = 7 gilts) or 24 h (n = 7 gilts) after the detection of oestrus. Seminal plasma infusion at the onset of oestrus provoked ovulation in the ipsilateral ovary of the treated horn 8.5 ± 0.9 h earlier than in the contralateral (control) ovary. Seminal plasma did not influence the LH profile compared with PBS (P > 0.05), but shortened the interval between the LH peak and ipsilateral ovulation to 23.4 ± 4.0 h compared with 31.8 ± 3.4 h in the contralateral ovulation (P ≤ 0.01). Infusion 16 h after the onset of oestrus reduced the effect to 4.6 ± 3.8 h with a wide range of 0–8 h (P < 0.01). The effect was more pronounced in gilts with long intervals between the onset of oestrus and contralateral ovulation compared with earlier ovulation on the control ovary. Seminal plasma infusion less than 16 h before contralateral ovulation and 24 h after the detection of oestrus had no effect. It is concluded that transcervical infusion of seminal plasma early in oestrus synchronizes the variable intervals between the onset of oestrus and ovulation in sows by a locally active mechanism.

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D Waberski, F Magnus, F Ardón, A M Petrunkina, K F Weitze and E Töpfer-Petersen

In vitro short-term storage of boar semen for up to 72 h before insemination negatively affects fertility, but this often remains undetected during semen quality assessment. One important sperm function is the ability to form the functional sperm reservoir in the oviduct. In the present study, we used the modified oviductal explant assay to study sperm binding to oviductal epithelium in vitro in diluted boar semen stored for 24 or 72 h. First, we determined the kinetics of in vitro sperm binding to oviductal epithelium in relation to co-incubation time of sperm and oviductal tissue pieces. Then, we studied how the binding of sperm to oviductal epithelium was affected by in vitro semen storage and by differences among individual boars. Sperm binding after different incubation times was significantly higher when semen was stored 24 h than after 72-h storage (P < 0.05), and peaked at 30–90 min of incubation. Sperm binding differed between boars (n = 44), and was negatively correlated to the percentage of sperm with cytoplasmic droplets (R = −0.51, P < 0.001). There were no significant changes in motility, acrosome integrity and propidium iodide stainability during the 72-h storage period. However, sperm-binding indices were significantly lower after 72 h in vitro storage than after 24-h storage in sperm from boars with normal semen quality (P < 0.05); in contrast, the binding capacity of sperm from boars with higher percentages of morphologically altered sperm remained at a low level. The sperm-binding capacity of sperm from four of the five boars with known subfertility was lower than the mean binding index minus one standard deviation of the boar population studied here. It is concluded that changes in the plasma membrane associated with in vitro ageing reduce the ability of stored boar sperm to bind to the oviductal epithelium. This study shows the potential of sperm–oviduct binding as a tool to assess both male fertility and changes in sperm function associated with in vitro ageing.

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AM Petrunkina, R Gehlhaar, W Drommer, D Waberski and E Topfer-Petersen

The sperm reservoir in the caudal isthmus of the oviduct of a number of species is created by binding of spermatozoa to oviductal epithelium. The sperm reservoir fulfills a number of functions such as control of sperm transport, maintenance of sperm viability and modulation of capacitation. The initial capacities of ejaculated and epididymal boar spermatozoa to bind to oviductal epithelium were investigated using a modified pig oviductal explant assay. The number of spermatozoa that bound to 0.01 mm(2) of explant surface was used as the parameter of binding capacity. Binding of spermatozoa to oviductal epithelial explants was dependent in a linear manner on the number of spermatozoa added (P < or = 0.05). No difference was found in initial sperm binding between isthmic and ampullar explants. There was no effect of the stage of the oestrous cycle or the reproductive status of the female donor. There was a significant effect (P < or = 0.05) of the individual boar on the binding index. The binding index correlated negatively with the percentage of spermatozoa with cytoplasmic droplets and the percentage of morphologically abnormal spermatozoa (P < or = 0.05). Epididymal spermatozoa showed significantly lower initial binding capability than did ejaculated spermatozoa from the same boars (P < or = 0.05); therefore, components of seminal plasma may play a role in the binding process. The individual differences revealed by this study and their relation to morphology and contact of spermatozoa with seminal fluid indicate a selective function of sperm-oviduct binding.

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AM Petrunkina, J Friedrich, W Drommer, G Bicker, D Waberski and E Topfer-Petersen

On reaching the oviduct, spermatozoa are retained in the isthmic region of the oviduct until ovulation occurs. The essential steps of capacitation are co-ordinated in this region. In this study, a primary cell culture system of oviductal epithelial cells was established to investigate sperm binding to oviductal epithelium and modulation of sperm function during incubation under capacitating conditions in co-culture with oviductal epithelial cells. Epithelial cells were stripped from the oviducts of sows and cultivated for 5-7 days on Lab-Tek Chamber slides on Matrigel. The preparations on chamber slides and suspensions of control spermatozoa were incubated for 3 h in Tyrode's albumin lactate pyruvate (TALP) medium. At 3, 30, 60, 90 and 180 min the free-swimming spermatozoa were collected by washing, and membrane integrity, tyrosine phosphorylation patterns and [Ca(2+)](i) of bound, unbound and control spermatozoa were assessed with fluorescent probes (propidium iodide, Cy-3 and fluo-3-AM). The cells bound to oviductal epithelial cells showed reduced cytosolic Ca(2+) concentration, reduced and almost absent tyrosine phosphorylation of membrane proteins and higher viability at the time of the first sampling. Increases in Ca(2+) concentration and cell death occurred much more slowly during incubation in cells bound to oviductal epithelial cells compared with free-swimming spermatozoa, and no changes in tyrosine phosphorylation were observed. The preferential binding of viable, low-Ca(2+) cells with suppressed tyrosine phosphorylation and slower functional modulation of boar spermatozoa attached to oviductal epithelial cells might represent a mechanism for selecting functionally competent spermatozoa and prolonging their lifespan by delaying capacitation in the oviductal reservoir.

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A M Petrunkina, D Waberski, A R Günzel-Apel and E Töpfer-Petersen

Fertilization success cannot be attributed solely to the absolute number of vital, motile, morphologically normal spermatozoa inseminated into the female but more especially to their functional competence. A range of in vitro tests has therefore been developed to monitor crucial aspects of sperm function: their ability to adapt to changing osmotic conditions, to bind to the oviductal epithelium, and to undergo capacitation in an appropriate and timely manner. The tests employ flow cytometry in conjunction with fluorescent techniques, electronic cell counting, and computer-assisted image area analysis. The highly quantitative analysis provided by electronic sizing and flow cytometry enables assessment of representative cell numbers in a very short time with high reproducibility. More importantly, it allows the detection of physiological heterogeneity within an ejaculate in terms of the development of cell subpopulations and enables the kinetic analysis of changes in living cell suspensions. The tests offer a promising strategy for evaluating fertility in domestic animals. The capability for volume regulation ensures that sperm recover from the tonic shocks experienced at ejaculation and during cryopreservation. Assessment of capacitation in vitro provides valuable information on both the sperm’s ability to respond to fertilizing conditions and the sequence and rates of ongoing capacitation/destabilization processes. The monitoring of response to capacitating conditions in kinetic terms allows the sensitive and adequate detection of sperm populations expressing fertilization attributes and their ability to respond to external stimuli in a timely manner. However, subfertility is likely to be associated with a suboptimal response (i.e. too high or too low) rather than a minimal response.

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A M Petrunkina, M Hebel, D Waberski, K F Weitze and E Töpfer-Petersen

Osmotically induced cell swelling triggers a chain of events leading to a net loss of major cell ions and water, resulting in cell volume recovery, a process known as regulatory volume decrease (RVD). In many cell types, there is an evidence that the cytoskeleton may play a role in the initial sensing and transduction of the signal of volume change. In this study, we tested the hypothesis that an intact microfilament and microtubule network is required for volume response and RVD in boar sperm before and after capacitation treatment and whether addition of cytochalasin D and colchicine to the capacitation medium would affect volumetric behaviour. Capacitation is a series of cellular and molecular alterations that enable the spermatozoon to fertilize an oocyte. Cell volume measurements of washed sperm suspensions were performed electronically in Hepes-buffered saline solutions of 300 and 180 mosmol/kg. After exposure to hypoosmotic conditions, boar sperm showed initial swelling (up to 150% of initial volume within 5 min), which was subsequently partially reversed (to about 120–130% after 20 min). Treatment with cytochalasin D led to reduced initial swelling (1 μmol/l) and loss of RVD in washed sperm (1–10 μmol/l) and at the beginning of incubation under capacitating conditions (5 μmol/l). Short treatment with 500 μmol/l colchicine affected the volume regulatory ability in sperm under capacitating conditions but not in washed sperm. No significant differences in cell volume response were observed after subsequent addition of cytochalasin D and colchicine to the suspensions of sperm incubated for 3 h under capacitating conditions. However, the incubation under capacitating conditions in the presence of cytochalasin D led to improved volume regulation at the end of the incubation period (23%). The microfilament network appears to be important for volume regulation in washed boar spermatozoa while intact microtubules do not seem to be necessary for osmotically induced RVD. The changes in cytoskeleton microfilament organization during capacitation, possibly affecting the osmotically induced volume response, appear to occur at the later stages of capacitation, whereas changes in microtubules, related to volume regulatory ability, may be programmed within the first stages of capacitation.

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D. Waberski, H. Südhoff, T. Hahn, P. W. Jungblut, E. Kallweit, J. J. Calvete, M. Ensslin, H-O. Hoppen, N. Wintergalen, K. F. Weitze and E. Töpfer-Petersen

The shortening of the time interval between the onset of oestrus and ovulation in sows by the transcervical administration of seminal plasma was investigated in 23 German Landrace gilts, using the technique of single horn infusions (Mariensee model) in combination with the transcutaneous sonographic monitoring of ovaries. Preparative surgery comprised the detachment of the left uterine horn from the corpus, leaving the caudal end open to the peritoneal cavity but sealing the corpus wound. The left ovary was loosely tied to the ventral abdominal wall for better sonographic distinction. The animals were used in two to four consecutive cycles. After detection of oestrus by the teaser boar, the patent (right) horns were filled by transcervical infusion of 100 ml of a variety of test solutions. Ovulation was probed by transcutaneous sonography at intervals of 4 h thereafter. Native seminal plasma provoked ovulation in the ipsilateral ovary of the treated horn 10.7 h earlier than in the contralateral ovary. This effect was reduced to 7.3 h after charcoal treatment of seminal plasma; addition of 10 μg oestradiol restored the effect in full, while 10 μg of oestradiol in PBS shortened the time interval to only 3.3 h versus the control ovary. Little effect was seen with oestrone sulfate, none with prostaglandins in PBS or with PBS alone. The preliminary characterization of the nonsteroidal component of seminal plasma advancing ipsilateral ovulation after transcervical infusion suggests a proteinaceous nature. The activity resides in the 1–10 kDa fraction separated by ultrafiltration and is lost after treatment with pronase.